Tahiti! Swaying palm trees, turquoise waters and unspoiled white sandy beaches. That's the image that is surely conjured up at the mention of Tahiti, the name often given to Tahiti and her islands (French Polynesia). But these tropical islands are not all about swaying palm trees, turquoise waters and unspoiled white sandy beaches! With 118 inhabited islands, and hundreds of tiny uninhabited islands or motus, there is plenty of room for variety. Some islands like famous Bora Bora consist of a main mountainous island, surrounded by motus (tiny sand fringed islets) with a turquoise lagoon separating them.

Moorea, surrounded by coral reefs and small lagoons, is a giant extinct volcano with jagged peaks rivaling the Himalayas in ruggedness. This ruggedness makes the mountains appear to be much higher than they really are, and they pose a challenge even for the most serious of mountain climbers. (The highest mountain on Moorea is Mt. Tohiea at 3959 feet (1207 meters).

Mount Mouaroa (Bali Hai Mountain), Moorea


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So , for our big adventure on Moorea we decided to join a four hour long group tour driving our own quad ATV (all terrain vehicle) deep into the mountains. As my husband was going to be doing the driving, we decided on the side by side ATV, where I would be sitting up front from where it would be easier to take photographs. Our group tour actually turned out to be a private tour as it was on a day when the very small cruise ship The Paul Guagain was not in port! We had our local tour guide all to ourselves!

Map showing points of interest on Moorea from this post

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Teko our guide picked us up at the Manava Beach Resort And Spa in a safari type vehicle used for other group tours, and brought us to the facility where we confirmed that the side by side quad ATV was the best choice for us. Then we were off - following Teko down the rough road from the tour headquarters.

Teko, our guide, leading the way


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At first the going was easy. We drove along the main road for a few miles, stopping only once for me to photograph this old seemingly abandoned boat.

Old Boat, Moorea

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Our first destination took us up a dirt track road to the Manutea Tahiti and Jus de Fruits de Moorea distillery, which not only creates liqueurs, rums, wines (sparkling and still) with local exotic tropical juices, but also produces Rotui, the most famous tropical fruit juices and punches in French Polynesia. Think papaya, pineapple, guava, grapefruit, mangos and noni! There were no tours of the distillery, but we did get to sample the different blends of juices and I was hooked! All throughout our trip I kept cartons of Rotui in our bungalow refrigerators, and often picked up a can from a small supermarket when off somewhere on a walk. Imagine my thrill to discover that it is available in the USA – imported via California. Check out their website here.

Manutea Tahiti and Jus de Fruits de Moorea distillery


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My husband and I in our quad ATV at the distillery, Moorea

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View of the mountains behind the distillery, Moorea

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Upon returning briefly to the main road, we stopped to check out some fish offered for sale roadside, a very common sight along the main road which ringed this small island!

Fish for sale by the roadside, Moorea

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Our next stop was in the Moorea Tropical Gardens, where we sampled all kinds of delicious jams made with every type of tropical fruit imaginable. Not only was the jam made from tropical fruits, but each jam had a combination of flavors to tickle the taste buds. My favorite was the pumpkin, papaya and pineapple which I brought home with me. Unfortunately, we didn't stop for long in the gardens, only long enough to taste the jam and a delicious drink of freshly squeezed pineapple juice! The track in and out of the gardens was quite easy – just a simple dirt road. But soon we would be longing for the ease of travel on such a road!

Pumpkin, papaya and pineapple jam - our souvenir from the Bortanical Gardens, Moorea

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(Despite the somewhat beat-up label, the jam is delicious!)

Following Teko through the Botanical Gardens, Moorea

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As we climbed into the mountains and up Magic Mountain, the weather began to change, and more clouds rolled in.

Had I known what was ahead of us, I probably never would have agreed to the trip! Magic Mountain is not for the faint of heart or weak of spine! It is not accessible by car, but can only be reached on foot, by ATV, or by safari tour trucks.

Soon we were no longer on a dirt track road, but what I called a boulder track road! Often we were driving up the mountain at a 45 degree angle on a zigzagging “track” of huge boulders! Because I was so busy covering my eyes during some of the most grueling parts of the climb, I didn't take any photographs! Also, the motion made it impossible anyway to hold a camera still! Parts of the track were semi paved with two rows of slabs, but occasionally because of a bump or something, the wheels would come of the track at one side! As I mentioned, Magic Mountain is definitely not for the fainthearted!

At one point at a particularly uneven and winding part on our way up (with a frightening drop to the valley below at very close proximity to our vehicle,) I made my husband stop. Teko wanted to know if we wanted to turn around, but the reality hit me! How the heck could we safely turn around on this dangerous and narrow boulder strewn track? Besides, I am not a quitter and I really did want to get to the top of that mountain. So, after I caught my breath for a few minutes, we forged ahead into more danger! Another tour group, instead of going down the other track from the mountain decided to come back down on the “up” route! Again, I have no photographs of the incident, as I was too busy watching as my husband maneuvered the vehicle into one side without toppling us off the mountainside! Did I mention no guardrails?

Finally we arrived at a spot where we would park the ATV's, but we were not yet at the summit of Magic Mountain! We had to climb a very steep paved path for 300 feet, and then we were there. I can only imagine how spectacular the view would be on a sunny day! Instead we had to accept the day for what it was - perhaps fittingly overcast and moody!

WELCOME TO MOOREA at the base of the path leading to the summit of Magic Mountain

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Magic mountain path to the summit, Moorea

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Regardless of the weather, the view was quite breathtaking. We had an excellent view of Opunohu Bay (the one on the left,) and Cook's Bay (named after Captain James Cook) that you can see just to the right, with Mou'a Rotui (Mount Rotui) separating the 2 bays. At 899m (almost 3,000) feet, it is the center of the ancient volcano which is Moorea, and the second highest mountain on the island. The rest of the island to the south is the southern rim of the volcano. Scientists believe that the northern rim violently exploded and blew off and sank into the sea!

Mount Rotui From Magic Mountain, Moorea

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We encountered only two young ladies from California at the summit, so after taking the obligatory selfies, we each traded photography duties and photographed each other.

Jim and I at the summit of Magic Mountain, Moorea

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The village of Papetoai from Magic Mountain, Moorea

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Before mounting our vehicles for the less arduous track down the mountain, we asked our guide Teko why the mountain was called Magic Mountain. His not too convincing answer was that when some Americans first saw the view from the top, they commented, “This is magic!” Whether or not that story is true or just made up for the tourists, I have no idea, but I have not been able to find any reference anywhere about the naming of that mountain, or what its Tahitian name is!

From Magic Mountain we continued southward into the lush interior of Moorea towards the Belvedere Lookout. By now the sky had open and was pouring buckets of tropical rainwater on us in our open vehicle, but as luck would have it, there were a couple of ponchos in the glove compartment. I cocooned myself in the huge green plastic thing, but Jim decided to brave it, as he was wearing swim trunks and a rash guard shirt which are meant to get wet!

The trip from Magic Mountain to the Belvedere Lookout was a pretty miserable one, with no opportunity to stop for pictures in the tropical rainstorm! But one saving mercy was that the road leading to Belvedere Lookout is a paved one, so at least for a while we didn't get rattled about on that leg of our adventure.

This too was supposed to be one of the most spectacular viewpoints on Moorea, but it was raining so hard that I stayed huddled under the poncho and under a big tree while managing to grab a few shots of the view, which on other days must be breathtaking. (And this was the DRY SEASON!) We were now directly in front of Mount Rotui and could clearly see both Opunohu Bay to the left and Cook's Bay to the right.

Mount Rotui from Belvedere Lookout, Moorea

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After our descent from the Belvedere Lookout point, it was time for us to head offtrack again! It was quite thrilling to drive the ATV through a river ford, but even more thrilling when Teko stopped to call the eels for feeding! All he had to do was open a can of mackerel and spill some juice into the water for them to come slithering up out of the river and into the shallow water in the ford! These blue eyed freshwater eels are protected and considered sacred by the people of Moorea and of the other islands of Tahiti, and are never eaten.

Following Teko through a ford in a river, Moorea

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Teko feeding the eels, Moorea

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Moorea is known as the pineapple capital of French Polynesia, so no trip to Moorea would have been complete without taking a trip along the “Route des Ananas” or the “Pineapple Route” through the Opuhi Plantation where bananas as well as pineapples are grown. Of course, like most things worth seeing on Moorea, you need to be on an ATV or with a 4x4 safari tour in order to navigate the dusty and often boulder strewn route! At times I wondered if we were ascending Magic Mountain again!

What some of the track looked like at EASIER locations, Moorea

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Banana trees line the road on the Pineapple Route through the Opuhi Plantation, Moorea

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Bananas on tree, the Opuhi Plantation, Moorea

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On our ATV in a pineapple field in the Opuhi Plantation, Moorea

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A Queen Tahiti pineapple in the Opuhi Plantation, Moorea


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The pineapples grown on Moorea are Queen Tahiti pineapples and are extremely sweet and juicy! Perhaps the kind grown on Bali Hai?

Bali Hai! The voice of Juanita Hall as the character Bloody Mary in the 1958 Rodgers & Hammerstein musical "South Pacific" seductively beckons us to “Come away... Come away.”

BLOODY MARY in South Pacific
Lyrics by Richard Rodgers

Most people live on a lonely island
Lost in the middle of a foggy sea
Most people long for another island
One where they know they will like to be

Bali Ha'i may call you
Any night, any day
In your heart, you'll hear it call you:
"Come away... Come away."

Bali Ha'i will whisper
In the wind of the sea
"Here am I, your special island!
Come to me, come to me!"

Your own special hopes
Your own special dreams
Bloom on the hillside
And shine in the streams

If you try, you'll find me
Where the sky meets the sea
"Here am I, your special island
Come to me, Come to me."

Bali Ha'i, Bali Ha'i, Bali Ha'i

Someday you'll see me, floatin' in the sunshine
My head stickin' out from a low-flying cloud
You'll hear me call you, singin' through the sunshine
Sweet and clear as can be:
"Come to me, here am I, come to me..."

If you try, you'll find me
Where the sky meets the sea
"Here am I, your special island
Come to me, Come to me."

Bali Ha'i, Bali Ha'i, Bali Ha'i

We did not set out to search for Bali Hai! She found us! We could almost hear her calling through the mists of that overcast Moorea afternoon!

"Here am I, your special island
Come to me, Come to me."

But is Moorea the magical mountain island of Bali Hai? Or is it Bora Bora with her world famous restaurant Bloody Mary's frequented by movie stars, sports personalities and politicians alike?

Mount Mouaroa (Bali Hai Mountain), Moorea


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According to James Michener who wrote Tales Of The South Pacific, Bali Hai is a composite of many places. In his book the residents are Tonkinese, but as Bali Hai is a fictional place, it can be wherever you want it to be! It is not difficult to imagine the island of Moorea in French Polynesia with its mystical magical mountains piercing through the mist to the sky as the exotic mountain island of Bali Hai! What's more James Michener thought so too, but not until after her had submitted his book TALES OF THE SOUTH PACIFIC to his publisher! Upon entering Cook's Bay for the first time he said that what was before him was exactly what he had in mind for Bali Hai!

But why does Bora Bora stake a claim to Bali Hai? It's because after visiting Moorea and then Bora Bora, he said that Bora Bora was "Bali Hai of the spirit." It seems that he allowed both Bora Bora and Moorea to believe that each was Bali Hai!

The1958 Rodgers & Hammerstein musical "South Pacific" was filmed mostly in Hawaii which is in the North Pacific, so the island of _ Kauai_ also claims to be Bali Hai! It is claimed that in the movie Makana Mountain is Bali Hai Mountain. But the tour guides in Moorea tell tourists that Mouaroa Mountain was the mountain shown as Bali Hai in the movie and it too is known as Bali Hai Mountain.

Lots of my research shows that only a couple of well known US newspapers claim that the movie was partly made in Moorea! Never believe what you read in the newspapers! LOL! The Tahiti Tourism site does not make that claim - only that it was the inspiration for James Michener's story, although that is not quite true either!)

However, Moorea was definitely the location for the 1984 movie Bounty starring Anthony Hopkins as Captain Bligh and Mel Gibson as Fetcher Christian. I may have seen the movie years ago, but I now need to watch it again through new eyes!

After the stop to view Bali Hai Mountain, we made our way once again through the pineapple fields, back to the main road, back to the tour headquarters, then back to the resort for dinner.

Pineapple field and mountain on the Pineapple Route through the Opuhi Plantation, Moorea

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Whatever you believe about Bali Hai, I believe she found me on Moorea, because Bali Hai is wherever you want her to be! Where is your Bali Hai?

If you enjoyed this post, you may want to read the others IN THIS SERIES about my trip to French Polynesia often known as simply Tahiti, after the main island in the group.

  1. French Polynesia – A State Of mind
  2. Moorea French Polynesia – First Impressions And The Resort